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Morton blames government dithering for rail upgrade delays


GOVERNMENT INDECISION has delayed efforts to upgrade the national rail network, the outgoing chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority told NCE this week.

In an exclusive interview, Sir Alastair Morton said that industry reform was 18 months behind programme. He also accepted that the Authority (SRA) had to shoulder part of the blame for failing to deliver its full strategy for the railways.

Morton hit back at those who have criticised the SRA for its lack of progress in agreeing new train operating franchise deals.

He said the government's failure to make a final decision over the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and Transpennine franchises was the start of the slow down in progress.

He said that the SRA had recommended a winning bidder for the new ECML franchise but that the government had failed to act on it.

He also put some of the blame on the 'collapse' of Railtrack, and its inability to carry out its 'day job' of maintenance and renewals following the Hatfield train crash.

But Morton said any change would have to be gradual. Much depends on whether Railtrack can regain its former position of financial strength, he said.

He threw his weight behind calls to combine the role of the SRA with that of the Rail Regulator, while warning that such a move would take time.

Morton added that the government would have to agree to put more taxpayers' money into the rail as part of the 10 year transport plan. He said that £29bn of public money was inadequate and warned that unless more government money was made available quickly, the 'vision must be cut'.

The new SRA chairman is unlikely to come from a train operating company, said Morton.

He added that the job was unlikely to suit somebody used to the everyday 'hands on' work of an operator.

'This is one level back, more strategic, not day to day management', he said, indicating it would frustrate somebody used to the everyday thrust of business. He added that the job is bigger now than when he took it on.

Morton said he was ready to step aside to allow someone younger to take over. 'A person who's got the ambition to go charging round Whitehall, ' which, he admitted, after 20 years is no longer his idea of fun.

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